From WIP “Undivided.” Just a little characterization reveal…
“Barbecue?” James stared in disbelief at the snow-covered road ahead, with more of the white stuff dropping from the sky at the rate of about an inch per hour. “In this?”
“But first there’s the old man’s interrogation,” Matt interjected, expertly negotiating the snow-covered freeway exit. “If you somehow manage to survive that, then you have the potential to learn about all the skeletons in the family closet.”
James shifted a bit uncomfortably in the front passenger seat.
“Relax, man.” Matt chuckled. “It’s really all about family and friends getting together. Seriously, the only thing that’s likely to happen is you learn Anna’s real name.”
James became visibly more alert. Anna’s eyes narrowed and she glared at the back of her brother’s head. “Matt,” she said in a warning tone.
James twisted in the seat and sent Anna a contemplative stare. “Anna’s real name,” he mused aloud. “So Anna is an alias. Now that’s an interesting concept.”
He was obviously waiting for her to spill it, but she was determined to keep him in the dark, so she sat back in the seat, hands folded, and defiantly stared him down without saying another word.
“Matt?” James asked, turning to her brother.
But Matt shook his head. “Sorry, dude, I’m not willing to risk the wrath of Anna for that one.”
He steered the car into the driveway, followed closely by Keith and Monica in their own car. Anna stepped out and turned her dogs loose to cavort in the snow, smiling as they leap-frogged over one another then ran, noses snorting through the snow, toward the house, where Anna knew she would have to clean the ice clods out of the fur on their feet before her mother would let them in.
“Hey, Monica.” James’ voice floated into her awareness and she turned to see him holding the car door for her friend. “Anna was just telling me about her real name.”
Monica cast a look first at James and then at Anna. “Oh hell no! I don’t have any kind of death wish!”
“Then I’ll just have to guess,” he teased, his dark eyes glinting with a mischief. “Annabeth, Annabelle, Annamarie…” He rattled the names off, keeping his gaze on Anna’s face.
“Save your strength,” she called out on her way to the house. “You’re not even close.”
“Anastasia!” he tossed at her back as she opened the door and went inside.
“Yeah, you caught me,” she yelled back. “That one suits me, don’t you think? I look like some a lost Russian princess.” She pushed the door closed on his laugh and leaned against it for a moment, a smile gently curving her lips.
“Well, when that man tries, he can probably charm his way anywhere,” said Linda from somewhere behind Anna.
“Yeah, that would be my bet,” Anna replied, twisting in her tracks to take the towel from her mother and stooping to dry first Walter’s feet, then Oliver’s.
“One might wonder where exactly ‘anywhere’ might have taken him recently,” Linda said, brushing at an imaginary spot on her sleeve.
Anna met her mother’s gaze and her inquiry head-on, determined to stop any inquisition and hoping to put her mother’s fears to rest. “If you’re asking has he charmed his way into my bed, that’s not really your business, Mom, but the answer is no. Not only that, but he hasn’t even tried. And not,” she added a bit defiantly, “for lack of an invitation.”
Her mother’s eyebrows shot up, and Anna became apprehensive that she might have gone a bit too far. But Linda only nodded. “He’s a good man, but obviously has some trouble in his life and I don’t want to see you hurt when he leaves. Because honey,” Linda paused and put a hand on Anna’s shoulder. “He’s going to leave.”
Anna sighed. “Yeah, I think he is, too. As soon as he gets his life back—or maybe before. And I think Matt might help him do that.”
“He needs a lawyer?” Linda asked.
“He needs an FBI agent,” Anna said pointedly, and smiled when she saw she had surprised her mother.
“So Matt told you about his job.” Linda’s voice was flat.
“Let’s just say I found out last night.” Anna chose her next words carefully, and was aware that her hesitation was not lost on her mother. “I might be in a little bit of trouble, myself, and Matt got involved last night, so he had to tell me. I don’t know why he kept it quiet.”
“You really don’t?” her mother asked. “It’s not easy living up to being the preacher’s daughter, is it?”
Anna shook her head. “Sometimes I could do without Dad’s shining example of ministry.”
“It carries with it just a little bit of expectation. And while a police officer, a soldier, or an FBI agent are admirable jobs, they have a tendency to violence at some point,” Linda told her. “At first, I think Matt was afraid Dad wouldn’t approve. Then he was thinking maybe it would impact your dad’s relationship with the congregation.”
“Why didn’t he tell me?”
Linda shrugged. “I know some of the answers, sweetie, but not all of them.” She snapped her fingers at Walter and Oliver and the two dogs followed her into the kitchen, undoubtedly hoping to collect treats.
Anna trailed behind slowly, dreading what she had to share with her mother.
Almost as if reading her daughter’s mind, Linda herself broached the subject. “So do you want to talk about your trouble?” she asked from behind the open refrigerator door.
“I don’t know where to start,” Anna said, realizing that James had said nearly the same thing to her just days before.
“The beginning’s usually a good place,” Linda said, handing Anna a box of luscious red strawberries.
Setting the box of strawberries next to a cutting board, Anna chose a knife from the butcher block and began slicing them.
“I’m not sure I know where the beginning is,” Anna said. “But it kind of started with Karen Street asked me to help her with her son, Tom.”
“Karen from church?” Linda clarified.
Anna noticed Monica step into the room and then quickly step back, and called out to her friend, deciding she may as well tell the story one time, though she was fairly certain Keith would have already shared what he knew with his wife.
As Anna and Monica prepared strawberry and spinach salad, Linda punched down the bread dough that had been rising. Anna found the story surprisingly easy to tell.
“Last night, after my car got shot up, I realized I can’t keep my dogs at my house right now, Mom,” she finished, directing a pleading glance at her mom. “It’s hard on them to travel everywhere with me, and it’s not safe to leave them home alone, and even when I’m there it’s not save for them anymore.”
“There’s no reason why they can’t stay here,” Linda shook her head, and sank her perfect teeth into her lower lip before she straightened her back and said what was on her mind. “But Anna, I have to be honest here. It’s not your dogs I’m worried about. It’s not safe for you to be in that house, especially not alone.”
“Matt said he’d stay with me for a while,” Anna said quietly. “And James is at the church. I could ask him to move back, but . . . he has his own thing going on and I’m not sure if . . .” she shrugged, finding herself near to tears.
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